Friday, June 27, 2008

Good, Bad, Indifferent Frequent Flyer Credit Card Advice

There is a lot of good advice, mediocre advice, and bad advice out there about credit-card frequent-flyer miles. Take everything you read (our blog included) with a BIG grain of salt, as it’s frequently colored by the writer’s experience, research (or lack thereof), timeliness, and a host of other factors. For example, we were disappointed in a recent post on Budget Travel about airline and bank cards.

In the airline card section of the article, the writer mentions cards from Northwest, British Airways, JetBlue, Delta, and American. Does he think these are the best? Or the only ones? In the bank card section of the article (several clicks away, as is always the case with About’s articles), he lists Capital One, Citi Premier Pass, one American Express card, and a couple of obscure regional bank cards (does he not know about Merrill+, several other Amex cards, and others?). And all the hotel credit cards (Starwood, Hilton, etc.) that allow transfers into airline programs aren’t even mentioned.

Sometimes the article mentions that a card carries a 3% foreign-exchange fee, most times it doesn’t make note of that (implying, to us, that the card does not charge the fee, while in reality just about every card does.) And in the description of the one card which does not charge any forex fee – Capital One – that fact isn’t mentioned.

Finally, to us the worst inclusion is noting all the different APRs the cards carry (which, of course, vary over time and by targeted offer). The APR should be a non-issue (except for any 0% initial balance-transfer offers). If you carry a balance you should use a very low-fee card and totally ignore any frequent-flyer or reward cards (all of the lowest-fee cards we’ve seen do not offer any sort of reward program).

The lines of journalism and sales continue to blur. We wonder if most of these articles are posted so that readers will click the in-line links (in this article, it’s the “fine print” link after each card description) that go to the card website so that the web publisher (in this case About) can make some revenue. Cynical is our middle name.